Telegraph Avenue (Chabon)

Telegraph Avenue
Michael Chabon, 2012
HarperCollins
480 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061493348


Summary
As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there—longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland.

Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, two semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland.

When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise.

Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples' already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe's life.

An intimate epic, a NorCal Middlemarch set to the funky beat of classic vinyl soul-jazz and pulsing with a virtuosic, pyrotechnical style all its own, Telegraph Avenue is the great American novel we've been waiting for. Generous, imaginative, funny, moving, thrilling, humane, triumphant, it is Michael Chabon's most dazzling book yet. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—May 24, 1963
Where—Washington, D.C.
Education—B.A., University of Pittsburgh; M.F.A., University of California-Irvine
Awards—Pulitzer Prize
Currently—lives in Berkeley, California


Michael Chabon (SHAY-bon) is an American novelist and short story writer. His first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, was published in 1988 when he was still a graduate student. In 2000, Chabon published The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a novel that New York Times's John Leonard, once referred to as Chabon's magnum opus. It received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001. All told, Chabon has published nearly 10 novels, including a Young Adult novel, a children's book, two collection of short stories, and two collections of essays.

Early years
Michael Chabon was born in Washington, DC to Robert Chabon, a physician and lawyer, and Sharon Chabon, a lawyer. Chabon said he knew he wanted to be a writer when, at the age of ten, he wrote his first short story for a class assignment. When the story received an A, Chabon recalls, "I thought to myself, 'That's it. That's what I want to do.... And I never had any second thoughts or doubts."

His parents divorced when Chabon was 11, and he lived in Columbia, Maryland, with his mother nine months of the year and with his father in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during the summertime. He has written of his mother's marijuana use, recalling her "sometime around 1977 or so, sitting in the front seat of her friend Kathy's car, passing a little metal pipe back and forth before we went in to see a movie." He grew up hearing Yiddish spoken by his mother's parents and siblings.

Chabon attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied under Chuck Kinder and received a Bachelor of Arts in 1984. He then went to graduate school at the University of California-Irvine, where he received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing.

Initial success
While he was at UC, his Master's thesis was published as a novel. Unbeknownst to Chabon, his professor sent it to a literary agent—the result was a publishing contract for The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and an impressive $155,000 advance. Mysteries appeared in 1988, becoming a bestseller and catapulting Chabon to literary stardom.

Chabon was ambivalent about his new-found fame. He turned down offers to appear in a Gap ad and to be featured as one of People's "50 Most Beautiful People." Years later, he reflected on the success of his first novel:

The upside was that I was published and I got a readership.... [The] downside...was that, emotionally, this stuff started happening and I was still like, "Wait a minute, is my thesis done yet?" It took me a few years to catch up.

Personal
His success had other adverse affects: it caused an imbalance between his and his wife's careers. He was married at the time to poet Lollie Groth, and they ended up divorcing in 1991. Two years later he married the writer Ayelet Waldman; the couple lives in Berkeley, California, with their four children.

Chabon has said that the "creative free-flow" he has with Waldman inspired the relationship between Sammy Clay and Rosa Saks in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Entertainment Weekly declared the couple "a famous—and famously in love—writing pair, like Nick and Nora Charles with word processors and not so much booze."

In a 2012 NPR interview, Chabon told Guy Raz that he writes from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. each day, Sunday through Thursday. He attempts 1,000 words a day. Commenting on the rigidity of his routine, Chabon said,

There have been plenty of self-destructive rebel-angel novelists over the years, but writing is about getting your work done and getting your work done every day. If you want to write novels, they take a long time, and they're big, and they have a lot of words in them.... The best environment, at least for me, is a very stable, structured kind of life.

Novels
1988 - The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
1995 - The Wonder Boys
2000 - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
2002 - Summerland (Young Adult)
2004 - The Final Solution
2007 - The Yiddish Policemen's Union
2007 - Gentlemen of the Road
2012 - Telegraph Avenue
2016 - Moonglow

(Author bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/2/2016.)



Book Reviews
[A]n amazingly rich, emotionally detailed story that addresses [Chabon's] perennial themes—about fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and the consolations of art—while reaching outward to explore the relationship between time past and time present, the weight (or lightness, as the case may be) of history, and the possibility of redemption and forgiveness…Mr. Chabon can write about just about anything…And write about it not as an author regurgitating copious amounts of research, but with a real, lived-in sense of empathy and passion…for the most part he does such a graceful job of ventriloquism with his characters that the reader forgets they are fictional creations. [Chabon's] people become so real to us, their problems so palpably netted in the author's buoyant, expressionistic prose, that the novel gradually becomes a genuinely immersive experience—something increasingly rare in our ADD age.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


A genuinely moving story about race and class, parenting and marriage…Chabon is inarguably one of the greatest prose stylists of all time, powering out sentences that are the equivalent of executing a triple back flip on a bucking bull while juggling chain saws and making love to three women.
Esquire


 Chabon’s hugely likable characters all face crises of existential magnitude, rendered in an Electra Glide flow of Zen sentences and zinging metaphors that make us wish the needle would never arrive at the final groove.
Elle


A beautiful, prismatic maximalism of description and tone, a sly meditation on appropriation as the real engine of integration, and an excellent rationale for twelve-page sentences.
GQ


Virtuosity” is the word most commonly associated with Chabon, and if Telegraph Avenue, the latest from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, is at first glance less conceptual than its predecessors, the sentences are no less remarkable. Set during the Bush/Kerry election, in Chabon’s home of Berkeley, Calif., it follows the flagging fortunes of Brokeland Records, a vintage record store on the titular block run by Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, currently threatened with closure by Pittsburgh Steeler’s quarterback-turned-entrepreneur Gibson “G Bad” Goode’s plans to “restore, at a stroke, the commercial heart of a black neighborhood” with one of his Dogpile “Thang” emporiums. The community mobilizes and confronts this challenge to the relative racial harmony enjoyed by the white Jaffe; his gay Tarantino-enthusiast son, Julie; and the African-American Archy, whose partner, Gwen Shanks, is not only pregnant but finds the midwife business she runs with Aviva, Jaffe’s wife, in legal trouble following a botched delivery. Making matters worse is Stallings’s father, Luther, a faded blaxploitation movie star with a Black Panther past, and the appearance of Titus, the son Archy didn’t know he had. All the elements of a socially progressive contemporary novel are in place, but Chabon’s preference for retro—the reader is seldom a page away from a reference to Marvel comics, kung fu movies, or a coveted piece of ’70s vinyl—quickly wears out its welcome. Worse, Chabon’s approach to race is surprisingly short on nuance and marred by a goofy cameo from a certain charismatic senator from Illinois.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review.) If any novelist can pack the entire American zeitgeist into 500 pages, it's Chabon (The Yiddish Policeman's Union). Here, he deftly treads race, class, gender, and generation lines, showing how they continue to define us even as they're crossed.... [A] prodigious novel. Ambitious, densely written, sometimes very funny, and fabulously over the top, here's a rare book that really could be the great American novel. Highly recommended. —Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal


(Starred review.) A magnificently crafted, exuberantly alive, emotionally lustrous, and socially intricate saga.... Bubbling with lovingly curated knowledge about everything from jazz to pregnancy.... Chabon’s rhapsodically detailed, buoyantly plotted, warmly intimate cross-cultural tale of metamorphoses is electric with suspense, humor, and bebop dialogue…. An embracing, radiant masterpiece.
Booklist


(Starred review.) An end-of-an-era epic celebrating the bygone glories of vinyl records, comic-book heroes and blaxploitation flicks in a world gone digital. The novelist, his characters and the readers who will most love this book all share a passion for popular culture and an obsession with period detail. Set on the grittier side in the Bay Area of the fairly recent past (when multimedia megastores such as Tower and Virgin were themselves predators rather than casualties to online commerce), the plot involves generational relationships between two families, with parallels that are more thematically resonant than realistic....Yet the warmth Chabon...feels toward his characters trumps the intricacies and implausibilities of the plot, as the novel straddles and blurs all sorts of borders: black and white, funk and jazz, Oakland and Berkeley, gay and straight....
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. There are many different variations on father-and-son relationships—both real and makeshift—explored in the novel. What might the author be trying to convey through these complicated liaisons?

2. The majority of the characters in the novel are members of some minority group—African American, Jewish, Asian. Would you say that Telegraph Avenue is fundamentally a novel about race?

3. Like her husband, Archy, Gwen is African American, but of a decidedly different social class, upbringing, and education. How do these differences affect her marriage, as well as her position in this close-knit Oakland community—both in her own view and in the view of others?

4. Telegraph Avenue, the real-life Bay Area street at the center of the story, is described as "the ragged fault where the urban plates of Berkeley and Oakland subducted." How do the conflicting cultures of upper-middle-class Berkeley and working-class Oakland clash in the novel?

5. Why do Archy and Nat see the imminent arrival of ex-NFL quarterback Gibson Goode's mega-mall as a threat not only to their record shop, but to the community at large?

6. As the legendary Berkeley Birth Partners, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe have worked together for many years, and their husbands are business partners as well. Beyond their professional lives, what sense do you get of the friendship between these two women? How does the crisis that confronts their business bring out the best and/or worst in their pairing?

7. When a home birth goes awry, the midwife Gwen goes ballistic when faced with criticism from an obstetrician at the hospital. The emotional outburst severely jeopardizes her career. Do you think she is justified in her reaction, or should she have tempered her response?

8. Telegraph Avenue is set during the summer of 2004 in Oakland, California. Do this time and place have special bearing on the events of the novel, or could the story take place in a different or more ambiguous setting?

9. An intriguing "character" in the novel is Fifty-Eight, the African grey parrot that belongs to Cochise Jones. What does its name mean and what do you think the bird might symbolize or represent?

10. Some of the characters in the novel seem to be holding onto the past, as evidenced by their love of vinyl records and 1970s "Blaxploitation" martial arts films. How do you think this attachment to the past affects the characters' grasp on their present realities?

11. Archy Stallings makes some questionable choices in his dealings with his wife, Gwen, his son, Titus, his partner, Nat, and his business rival, Gibson Goode. Do you find him a sympathetic character?

12. How would you assess the relationship between Julius and Titus? Is it a genuine friendship for both of them?

13. To what extent are the characters in this novel in control of their own destinies, and how much does the inevitability of uncontrollable change come into play?

14. The novel is filled with colorful, eccentric characters. Which did you feel were the most arresting? The most real? Why?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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